The central government, irked by the election of a new Okinawa governor opposed to its plan to build a new military base in the Henoko district of Nago, has indicated that the prefecture’s development budget for fiscal 2015 could be less than it originally requested.
However, the government has also said it plans to increase construction-related funding in the next fiscal year for the base, which will serve as a replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in central Okinawa.
At a press conference earlier this week, Shunichi Yamaguchi, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, said the 2015 budget for Okinawa revitalization may be below the ¥379 billion sought by the prefectural government last year.
“Basically, there’s almost no example of a requested budget being approved as is. What’s important is to figure out how to guarantee an amount that is necessary,” Yamaguchi said.
Onaga was elected governor last November, defeating incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima on an anti-Henoko platform that galvanized the support of a broad section of Okinawan voters, including many who usually vote for the Liberal Democratic Party’s local candidates.
But central LDP headquarters, angry at Onaga for opposing the base, decided not to invite him to attend a party committee meeting on Thursday where the Okinawa budget will be discussed. Past committee meetings have included Nakaima.
A spokesman for the Okinawa Prefectural Government said Onaga will visit Tokyo again on Jan. 14 for further Okinawan budget discussions. A meeting with Abe is also being discussed, he said.
In December 2013, Nakaima agreed to approve a central government application for a base-related landfill project. In return, Abe promised that Okinawa would receive at least ¥300 billion in assistance annually until fiscal 2021, Nakaima said,
In recent months, the central government has stepped up efforts to get the base built. In late December, the Defense Ministry indicated it would request ¥150 billion for base-related construction in fiscal 2015 — double the amount the ministry received in fiscal 2014.
Any attempts to forcibly build the base that overrides local protests could create even greater resentment toward Abe and the LDP in Okinawa. That, in turn, could lead to problems between Tokyo and Washington, especially in the Senate Armed Forces Committee. That committee is chaired by Republican Sen. John McCain, who has proposed that the Henoko plan be scrapped.
Onaga has said he wants to visit Washington at the earliest possible opportunity to make his case against the Henoko base plan. The timing of his visit has not yet been decided.